Centre Stage with Director Ryan Bassett

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Director Ryan Bassett talks about what it was like to direct East of Berlin and what motivates him.


Hi everyone! Are you up for another blog about East of Berlin? Let’s go!

Today we’re going to talk some more with the director of the show, Ryan Bassett.

 (Director Ryan Bassett)

Ryan is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, where he studied Theatre and Performance, and he is KWLT’s current Artistic Director. He has been performing as a hobby, semi-professionally and professionally, for the past 17 years or so. He started branching out into directing after several years of acting, and has currently directed six plays, one as a co-director and five as solo director. East of Berlin is his second show as a director with KWLT.

 

Ryan’s reason for getting into directing is simple and concise: 

“I wanted to try it. [I thought] ‘Yeah, I’d like to give that a shot’, and then I read some plays.”


He mentioned that his preference for directing over performing  often changes depending on what is going on in his life, theatre wise.

“Right now, I prefer directing. It depends what I’ve been doing. This happened to me years ago when I directed Look Back in Anger; I was like ‘Oh yeah, I’m never going to act again. I’m cool to just direct forever.’ And then I was cast as Richard III , [and then it’s] like, ‘I just want to act forever!’ I just dip each foot in a different pool, and I don’t want to get out, until I do. I haven’t acted, in earnest, since KWLT’s Lion in the Streets in 2017.”


When it comes to both directing and acting, Ryan feels that there should be desire when it comes to selecting what shows to go out for or to direct. He doesn’t want to do something unless he feels a connection to the piece. That brought us to a discussion about how some theatre companies choose the shows for their season, and then find directors for them; and others, like KWLT, put a call out for directors who may have a specific show they want to do. He sees the merit in both options, especially from his stand-point of being the Artistic Director.

“I see the merit in both ways, especially from an AD stand-point, you can make a cohesive statement with said season or a cohesive message [you want] to get across.In the way we do it, there’s merit there as well because you get a diverse school of shows, directors, etc. So, it’s good both ways.”

 (Christine DI Rosa as Sarah and Greg Allen as Rudi)


This season is Ryan’s first as KWLT’s AD. He shadowed  our former AD, Colleen Daley, during the 2018/2019 season as a member-at-large, with the intention of taking over after the AGM. He had approached Colleen about the possibility of becoming AD because it was something he wanted to try.

“It’s a role I’ve been drawn to. I like the idea of being in a creative support position.”

 

When it comes to finding inspiration when researching new pieces, Ryan says he likes to look for something that he can communicate  - a message within the story.

“The funny answer is ‘I like a good, old fashioned soapbox to stand on’, but the real answer is that I like the opportunity to tell a story; to make a statement; to communicate a message. I like to play, to explore, to dig into things.

“Often, I just search out  playwrights, and storytellers. I don’t just search for plays.”

 

When it came to East of Berlin, Ryan was drawn to it and chose it for its challenging aspects:

“It’s very good! When I first read it, I was very taken by it; it's a very challenging piece [in its use of language] and theatrically. So much of it is one character in direct address to the audience. It was a difficult egg to crack, and I enjoyed the challenge.

 (Matt Mustin as Hermann)
 

There is a specific vision with this piece that differs from any other show Ryan has done, or any other show this season for that matter. The show takes place in multiple places, but nothing changes on stage except the lights and the props. It also shifts in time, starting at Rudi’s present and then switches to different points of his past. 

“[The set] toes a line between abstraction and realism; a big part of the show is memory; it’s Rudi taking us through various memories over a course of time. We wanted to play with that [in terms of the abstraction]; how memories fade, and aren’t clear.”


By the show's end, Ryan hopes the audience is able to take in the central theme and consider it for themselves.

“Part of what I’m looking at is shame as a motivator, and the way we respond to shame. It is almost like a challenge for the audience to watch Rudi, and consider how they respond to the things they are ashamed of; and asking them, ‘are you doing the right thing, or are you doing the easy thing?’”


When it comes to directing, Ryan has a very familiar and structured approach to  his shows: through the eyes of an actor.

“I approach stage craft as an actor, so I think a lot about character, the character’s journey. I don't pre-plan a lot of things - images and moments for sure, but the structure and the blocking especially is done on the fly. I’m a big proponent of the fact that it’s a play, so let’s play. I look at rehearsal  as a conversation with everyone in the room: actors, stage managers, whoever is working in the rehearsal.”


As always, I like to find out what sort of advice my interviewees would give to anyone that wants to know more about volunteering with KWLT and possibly directing. Ryan was happy to give his two cents:

“Come to a show; come to a workshop; audition; sign up [to volunteer]. There’s no doing it, but to do it. If you want to get involved, then get involved! We are always looking for volunteers and new members of the community. 

“Do something that speaks to you ,to get the most out of it. If there is a piece you want to do: put the time in. Find a piece that speaks to you”

 (Greg Allen as Rudi)

This the last week to see this amazing show at KWLT! Get your tickets at the door or with this link: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/kwlt-presents-east-of-berlin-tickets-86277226507?aff=efbeventtix&fbclid=IwAR2X152CuTFmW_EihhUP1fa93Yi3d7QLMVUaWteKFtXxDj54gAeZwVnsxPI